Emory Report
July 23, 2007
Volume 59, Number 35

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July 23, 2007
Winskell’s films focus on HIV/AIDS prevention

by Robin Tricoles

More than a decade ago — before the rise of the Internet — Kate Winskell and her husband were searching for innovative ways to reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS among young Africans. The old ways of trying to stop the spread of the disease — focusing only on medical aspects of the epidemic or relying on educational materials that were not culturally adapted — were clearly limited.

Instead, Winskell and her colleagues launched a new kind of HIV/AIDS communication program known as “Scenarios from Africa,” a series of short films about HIV/AIDS — written solely by young Africans. Scenarios began in three French-speaking, West African countries: Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso. The program has since expanded to reach almost every country in sub-Saharan Africa, said Winskell, assistant director of Emory’s Center for Health, Culture and Society and visiting assistant professor in Rollins School of Public Health.

Winskell became acutely aware of the urgent need to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS among young Africans during her first visit to the continent in 1996 as part of a research project. Recognizing the key role communication could play in combating AIDS, she decided to forego medical school to focus on “Scenarios from Africa.”

“Working with hundreds of community organizations in Africa, we hold contests inviting young people to come up with ideas for short films to educate their communities about HIV/AIDS. The winning ideas, which are selected by juries of young people, people living with HIV, and specialists in HIV prevention, are then transformed into short fiction films by top African directors,” said Winskell.

The films are donated to television broadcasters across Africa and dubbed into local languages, said Winskell. So far, more than 105,000 young people, ages 5 to 24, from 37 countries have taken part in these contests, and 33 films have been produced. The films have been broadcast on more than 100 television stations in or serving Africa.

Winskell cautions that it can be misleading to focus only on the audio-visual component of the project. “The program is so much more than that. It’s a very rich process. It’s about community development, about empowering young people to address the epidemic on their own terms and about local organizations having an opportunity to learn from one another and learn from the young people they’re serving,” she said.

The contest also motivates young people to go out into their communities and search for information about HIV/AIDS. That may mean first-time visits to local information centers or asking older brothers’ or sisters’ advice. “Yet, all the while, the young people have the protective cover of fiction,” said Winskell. “It enables them to ask about hypothetical situations that may be related to what they’re experiencing themselves.”

Likewise, the project gives those who are HIV positive an opportunity to be part of something life affirming. People living with HIV are often mentors, working with the young people to develop their scripts. “The person doesn’t need to reveal their HIV/AIDS status, but it’s very empowering for them to be involved in those educational efforts,” she said.

Last spring, thanks to a grant from the Emory Global Health Institute, the first of three team members from Scenarios arrived at Emory to serve as a visiting scholar. Traveling from Nigeria, Benjamin Mbakwem attended classes, delivered guest lectures, and began analyzing the enormous archive of scripts on HIV/AIDS written by young people over the last ten years.

“The archive is a remarkable source of information about how young people think about HIV/AIDS — and how their thinking about the disease has evolved. Really, it’s a constantly evolving epidemic with constantly evolving communications needs,” Winskell said.

To view one of the films from Scenarios, visit: www.whsc.emory.edu/multi media_aidshiv_africa.cfm.